What is microclover?
Micro clover (trifolium repens var. ‘pipolina’ or ‘pirouette’) is a miniature version of the Dutch white clover once common in household lawns before pesticides targeted broadleaf plants. Its tiny leaves are about one third the size of traditional clover, and it doesn’t clump together, making it look less like a weed and more like the even green lawns people love.
Micro clover pros and cons
Microclover is more drought tolerant and needs less fertilizer and mowing than most lawn grasses. This means it keeps your lawn looking greener and lusher throughout the spring and summer. Microclover also flowers less than white clover, reducing the chances that children (and adults) will suffer bee stings when playing outside.
At present, the seed can be somewhat costly for large areas, but homeowners can get around this by blending with grasses and other plants (see below). Blending can also help compensate for the fact that in some zones, micro clover will go dormant in winter and turn brown. Microclover doesn’t grow well in shade, so it is only suitable for areas receiving direct sunlight.
How to grow a microclover lawn
Getting your microclover lawn established isn’t a difficult process, but it does take some careful planning. There are two main questions to ask yourself before you begin:
- Will you start a new micro clover lawn or seed into an existing lawn?
- Will you sow your seed at 100% or mix with other plants for a blended look?
New lawn vs. overseeding
If you plan to seed micro clover into an existing lawn, be sure to mow close to the soil surface and aerate first. This will introduce air, water, and nutrients into the soil and give your seed a better chance of taking hold. Because clover seed is so fine, it passes between blades of grass quite effectively, but sow 25% more seed than you would a bare lawn to account for those that don’t penetrate to the soil level. Seed with a thin coating of soil and sand to improve germination rates, rake lightly, and press. The sowing rate for an existing lawn is 1.5 pounds for 10,000 square feet.
When planting a new lawn with micro clover, prepare the top 4 to 6 inches of your soil by tilling and adding compost. Lime where necessary, since microclover does best with a pH of 6 to 7. Rake to ensure a fine, even surface, then seed using a seed spreader, reserving some seed to fill in any gaps that develop after germination. Water regularly to ensure your soil doesn’t dry out. Wait a week after seeding before fertilizing with organic, pelletized chicken manure. This will give your seeds a chance to germinate and avoid giving the weeds a head start. The sowing rate for a new lawn is 1 to 2 pounds for 1,000 square feet.
Blended lawns vs. straight microclover
A 100% microclover lawn is a thing of beauty, but as noted above, the seed can be costly for larger areas. In some locations, microclover goes dormant in the winter and won’t retain its lush look year round, so blending with other plants can extend your lawn’s green look.
Portland landscaper, Max Floyd of Earth, Water & Wood, recommends mixing micro clover with dwarf fescues for an easy care option. Other seeds recommended for blending with microclover include:
- Fine fescues
- Tall fescues
- Dwarf perennial ryegrass
- Kentucky bluegrass
Check with your local extension office to see which specific grasses are recommended in your area. Purchasing a pre-mixed blend is another option and is particularly economical if you’re seeding a smaller area. Lawn trials show that mixes of 5 to 10% microclover will maintain the benefits of a clover lawn and keep weeds at bay.
Coated or uncoated seed?
Microclover seed is available as coated and uncoated seed. Coated seeds contain the essential bacteria that clover needs to effectively fix nitrogen. In many cases, these bacteria are already present in the soil and coated seed isn’t necessary, but if your soil is sterile, has never grown nitrogen-fixing plants before, or you just want to give your clover a jumpstart, consider using seed coated with the bacteria known as Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar. Trifoli.
Adding microclover to lawns helps control weeds because it helps fill in gaps that often exist in conventional lawn blends. The nitrogen-fixing properties of clovers build nutrients in the soil and feed other grasses in the blend, leading to a thick, dense cover.
If undesirable weeds appear, it’s important not to treat with any broadleaf herbicides,
since these will kill microclover. Instead, prevent weeds from colonizing your lawn by starting with clean, nutritious soil at the correct pH. (Perform a soil test before planting.) Sow seed at the recommended rate and water well to establish quickly. If weeds appear, pull by hand.
Disease and problems with microclover
Diseases are rare with microclover, though soggy, brown patches may indicate Southern blight, a disease occurring in hot, moist climates. Small areas can be treated by covering the soil with a plastic sheet before planting and ‘solarizing’ to kill the disease.
More questions about microclover
Is microclover shade tolerant?
Microclover needs 4 to 6 hours of sunlight every day. While most plants appreciate some shade in the heat of summer, too much shade will cause microclover lawns to struggle. Check the amount of sunlight your area receives before planting using a sunlight calculator.
What about watering?
Micro clover is fairly drought tolerant, requiring about 25% less water than conventional lawns to stay green. When first planted, water daily to speed germination and help establish a strong root system. Once established, water deeply as necessary to keep your lawn looking green. If you’re unsure how much water to use, test your soil using a moisture meter and adjust accordingly.
Can you walk on microclover?
Yes, you can—after it’s established. Microclover is more tolerant of traffic than many lawn alternatives and welcomes walking and playing on its surface. But be sure to give your new micro clover a four-week grace period before exposing it to traffic to help it develop a solid root system.
What about mowing?
Mowing microclover is important because it encourages the plants to form their characteristic tight, miniature habit. Once you achieve the size and look you’re going for, you can reduce mowing to as little as once per month—or mow weekly for tighter, lower growth and to control blossoming.
Lawns of the future
Using alternatives in your lawn can help address some of the issues that come with conventional turf, namely the use of herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and huge amounts of water. Microclover offers homeowners the opportunity to enjoy lower maintenance lawns longer in the growing season. The small white flowers are also great for pollinators, should you choose to let them grow.
Special thanks to Max Floyd of Earth, Water & Wood for sharing information about micro clover lawns in the home landscape.
Turner, Dr. Thomas. Microclover: Tall Fescue Lawns in the Mid-Atlantic Region. University of Maryland Turfgrass Technical Update, TT121, July 2015. https://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/non_HGIC_FS/TT121%20Tall%20fescue%20microclover%20lawns.pdf
Implementing Best Management Practices to Reduce Runoff and Lawn Fertilizer Use. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. https://plantscience.psu.edu/reduce-runoff/questions-about-microclover